I hope I was as offensive as I meant to be in my response to the microaggressions survey I got at work.
Among the endless litany of microaggressions listed in the survey, my favorite is “Have you observed or experienced a professor turning the heater in their office up or down to make it uncomfortable for underrepresented professors who come to speak to them in their office.”
We don’t control heaters in our offices or anywhere. As a result, we often end up stewing in our offices or classrooms when it’s 75C outside and the heater is on full blast. I had to let students go early last week because it was so hot and stuffy in our windowless basement classroom that it was getting unsafe.
But even if we did control our heaters. People do have different temperature preferences. What kind of a sick bugger assumes that colleagues choose a different office temperature out of racism and not out of a normal human preference?
The questions on the survey produce an impression that the only correct way to treat “underrepresented faculty” is as if they were precious, fragile vessels that need to be approached with extreme care. You can’t treat them as intellectual equals or fully capable adults who are in control of their emotional responses.
The length of the questionnaire, the lack of a definition for the word “underrepresented,” and the outlandishly trivial nature of proposed offenses ensure everybody’s culpability. There is no way of proving whether, as you talk with a shivering colleague in a frigid office, you are thinking, “this is a great idea, I should ask him if he wants to work on a proposal together” or “serves you right, you underrepresented person, I wish we had more people from Norway instead of your undesirable ass.” Neither can I know if the underrepresented colleague is thinking “all women are dumb bitches and I hope she freezes to death” or “this is a great idea, I should ask her if she wants to work on a proposal together.” If I automatically assume it’s the former, all this means is that I’m a paranoid idiot.